Getting fit asks for more than just physical perseverance. It’s often said that in sports, 90 per cent of your performance is mental. That means that mental resilience is crucial when building on your fitness levels or upping your game.
But how do we work that tool? What can we do to make sure that our mind gives us the support we need to go further?
“I tell people that often there’s two voices in your head,” says sports and musculoskeletal physiotherapist, Ross Smith.
“There’s a voice saying I need to do the exercise, but I’m just going to give it a rest this morning because it’s either too cold, too hot, I’m too tired, or there’s other things I need to do.
“What you need to keep regular exercise going is another voice that says: ‘You know what, I’ve got to remember what it feels like when I’ve completed the exercise. Because I feel so good’.”
After attending six Olympic Games as a physiotherapist for the Australian team, Ross is familiar with the planning and work that goes into building up that mental resilience.
“An important thing that athletes do is that they have short-term goals, and long-term goals” he explains. And this approach is not restricted to the elite – working out realistic goals and writing them down is beneficial to anyone with a desire to improve or maintain their fitness.
Write them down and stick them in front of you at your work or at home, he says. Somewhere that you’ll see them. Short-term goals to keep you focused, and measurable long-terms goals to keep you on track.
Measurability is key. “You should be able to measure how you’ve improved,” he says. “Whether you can run a bit faster, whether you can run a bit longer. Whether you can swim further. Whether you can complete all your exercise routines in the gym up to a certain number. Whatever you do, it should be measurable.”
Enjoyment is pivotal when it comes to strengthening that second voice, says Ross.
One common misconception, he says, is that the average person will see an elite person achieving fitness milestones and assume that it happened overnight.
“But most elite athletes have started at a very young age and enjoy what they do.
“So the first thing I say to people who are thinking of getting fit and maintaining their fitness is that you have to do something that you really enjoy, something you look forward to. Because the hardest thing is actually getting on the track.”
Apart from experimenting and choosing a sport that we really enjoy, what else can we do to boost enjoyment?
“If you can combine exercise to music it’s beneficial,” says Ross, “not only because it’s more enjoyable, but it’s also inspirational.”
“Where I’ve practiced for 35 years, there are a group of people that started to exercise because they found folk dancing of benefit to them,” he explains.
“They enjoyed the dance, and they enjoyed the music. And that was a group of people who normally wouldn’t exercise. But because they found something that they enjoyed – the dance plus the music – they become much fitter people.”